LOS ANGELES — After more than 10 years in the hospitality industry, operations director Parker Passman is used to keeping things clean and tidy at the JW Marriot in downtown Los Angeles.
But when the pandemic hit, it was a whole new level.
"We require our guests to wear face masks," said Passman. "We encourage social distancing and also hand washing and hand sanitizing throughout the building."
This particular location attracts convention travelers — about 60% of its business — but the hotel stopped hosting large events when the pandemic hit. As restrictions are expected to loosen in coming weeks though, Passman explained, getting ready to welcome more guests back into the fold means safety and cleanliness are top of mind. In meeting rooms, that means using electrostatic cleaning machines and rethinking how to serve buffets.
"There’s a whole plethora of guidelines," he said. "Marriot has their own commitment to clean that the whole brand is using, and then we also have LA County, the CDC guidelines."
But there hasn’t been one uniform standard across all hotels — until now. Passman noted that the JW Marriot in downtown LA is taking the extra step of following 360 new industry-wide COVID-19 safety guidelines for hotels and their guests. It was developed by a digital health company called Sharecare in partnership with Forbes Travel Guide.
The process takes two to three hours and the hotel earns a badge once it’s verified. This is something Faisal Sublaban, senior vice president of Internova Travel Group which oversees 65,000 travel advisers, says clients want to know because there is so much uncertainty.
“What are the restrictions? Do I have to wear a mask at the pool? Do I have to wear a mask while I’m in the pool? Is the restaurant open? Is it not? Is there a buffet? The questions go on and on and on,” Sublaban said. “And that’s why we’ve utilized this and equipped our travel professionals in order to provide them with those insights to the consumers when they ask those additional questions.”
An industry-wide standard could go a long way in making travelers feel safe. A recent survey from “Destination Analysts,” a travel and tourism market research firm, shows that about two-thirds of travelers said they would be “likely” or “very likely” to withhold business from a hotel that “does not make you feel confident that they are looking out for your health.”
Forbes Travel Guide shows over 600 hotels worldwide already have the Sharecare verification, including dozens of properties in LA. Adam Burke, president and CEO of Los Angeles Tourism, says that could attract visitors to the struggling hospitality sector as LA County prepares to move into the yellow tier.
"Looking back at January, hotels were around 42% occupancy, so less than one in two rooms filled," Burke said. "In the last 90 days, that has grown to well over 60%, and we’ve seen that for the first time, really, since the onset of the pandemic. But our goal is to let customers have a greater level of confidence in terms of the due diligence that the hotels have gone through."
That means HEPA-certified air filters, contact-less entry in hotel rooms and rigorous cleaning standards at the JW Marriot, according to Passman.
“One of the areas that our team focuses on is the high-touch areas in the room: phones, light switches, remote controls,” he said. “We’ve also gone with a more digital experience in the guest room as well.”
That also means no more paper hotel directories or room service menus. Instead, guests scan a QR code to get all the information at their fingertips, adding to a safe travel experience that also gives peace mind.